“I hope we don’t have another funeral this Christmas,” my young son said after we wrapped up Halloween. Hearing my child voice that fear nearly broke my heart, but our family had endured the deaths of two elders during the last two Christmas seasons so why wouldn't he wonder if this year would be the same?
Thankfully, that particular year we didn’t have a funeral during the season, though we did have another death at that time the following year. So, when it comes to death during the holidays, I have had some experience. I’ve also learned a lot since then about how hospice can not only make the death process easier and more dignified for the ill person, but how hospice can help support the survivors, even through the following year's holidays.
Whether or not November was chosen as National Hospice and Palliative Care Month because of the sad reminders of holiday deaths that Thanksgiving and Christmas bring around each year, I don’t know. But to me, the timing is perfect.
All deaths leave behind days on the calendar that are particularly painful for loved ones. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the births of children and grandchildren. All magnify the lack of presence of the deceased person. However, Thanksgiving, Christmas - and even the New Year - come around at the same time for all.
The hoopla starts around Halloween and goes past New Year’s Day. The pressure to “celebrate” is relentless for over two months. The reminders are everywhere.
Since abolishing the holidays won't work, the next best thing is receiving support from those who understand. Hospice offers grief counseling for 13 months after a death. While there is no magic time for the healing of grief, at least this amount of time will allow survivors who take advantage of hospice grief counseling one holiday season of support. They'll have the option of connecting to a trained counselor as well as the support of others who are going through the grieving process.
Hospice grief counseling also provides a valuable way for people in emotional pain to form supportive relationships that last far beyond organized counseling.
Of course, hospice isn’t just about grief counseling. Hospice care is about the whole death process. Each of my parents experienced pain-free, dignified deaths due to the compassionate care of hospice.
I can’t imagine having gone through the deaths of my beloved parents, each of whom had suffered for years prior to qualifying for hospice, without the support and care of these wonderful people.
While I honor this incredible organization every day through my work in supporting caregivers and their ill loved ones, I will do all that I can this season to draw extra attention to their work by spreading the word that November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. My gratitude to them is unending. I hope that you will join me in telling others about their work.
Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at www.mindingourelders.com and www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, follow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook: Minding Our Elders